The last time a presidential debate featured Hillary Clinton was back in 2008, when she and Barack Obama, who was by then the front-runner in the race, fielded questions from Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. Clinton and Obama were the last two Democrats standing, and knew whoever won the nomination would face Republican John McCain in November. The April 2008 debate became somewhat notorious less for what the candidates said, and more for the criticism levied at the moderators for the questions they chose.
According to The New York Times, Gibson and Stephanopoulos "front-loaded the debate with questions that many viewers said they considered irrelevant." Obama was asked why he didn't wear a flag pin, for instance, and the moderators hammered away at why each would not come out and choose the other as a running mate. This at a time when the country was mired in a massive economic crisis, including a housing bubble that had burst and begun a wave of foreclosures of subprime mortgages. In fact, after the debate, Obama quipped to an audience of supporters that "we set a new record because it took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people," according to The Times.
At this point in the 2008 campaign, Clinton was trailing Obama, who had amassed more delegates and had momentum on his side. Clinton would concede the race to Obama two months after this debate, in June. But she doesn't look like a candidate on the verge of defeat in the video of the debate, coming across as confident, and clearly articulating the points she tires to make. She works throughout to position herself as the more experienced candidate.
"I have been in this arena for a long time, I have a lot of baggage and everyone has rummaged through it," she says. "I will be able to withstand whatever the Republicans send our way."
What's interesting about this debate, which took place in April 2008, is how so many of the things Clinton predicts have come true. She talks about Iran and its budding nuclear capabilities, and urges diplomatic engagement.
You know, we are at a very dangerous point with Iran. The Bush policy has failed. Iran has not been deterred. They continue to try to not only obtain the fissile material for nuclear weapons but they are intent upon and using their efforts to intimidate the region and to have their way when it comes to the support of terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere.
She also makes several wistful references to the economic prosperity of the 1990s, the period when Bill Clinton was president, almost as if she was trying to take some responsibility for her husband's economic policies:
It was better for our country when we had an economy that lifted everyone up at the same time, and we had that during the 1990s; you know, 22.7 million new jobs, more people lifted out of poverty than any time in our recent history.
Throughout this final Democratic debate of the 2008 campaign, both Clinton and Obama show their considerable skills as debaters and public speakers. Gibson at one point acknowledges that Clinton is being "shortchanged on time" by the moderators, which may have been due to the state of the race at that point. It seemed as though Obama, while slightly annoyed by some of the questions, just had become inevitable as the Democratic nominee.
But watching Clinton hang in there during the 2008 debate definitely whets the appetite for the campaign trail, now that she has even more experience to draw from, and is herself the apparent favorite to win the Democratic nomination. You can watch the full video here.
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